Friday, February 12, 2010

Men, Women & Pianos: A Social History

When I was little I used to admire the cover of Arthur Loesser's book, which was on a high shelf on my father's bookshelf.

Years later I found it (on a lower shelf, and without a dust cover) in a library, and I found it to be the most entertaining, most interesting, most engaging look at musical history this side of van Loon. I told my father about finally reading (and loving) the book I had seen on his bookshelf, and he told me that he knew Arthur Loesser in Cleveland.

Arthur Loesser was the half brother of Frank Loesser, the highly-acclaimed composer of the music for Guys and Dolls (and of many other fantastic shows). Guys and Dolls opened on Broadway in 1950, and Arthur's Men, Women & Pianos was published for the first time by Simon and Schuster in 1954. It dawned on me that there might be some kind of a family resemblance in the titles.

I now own my own copy of the book (a first edition, no less, with a different cover from the one pictured on Google Books), and am issuing a warning that many of my future blogposts will take their inspiration from it. Recent scholarship has debunked many of Loesser's ideas, but a lot of recent scholarship has also managed to wring the vibrant life out of centuries of musical life.

1 comment:

Zach Wallmark said...

Thanks for writing a post in praise of this wonderful book. It's a bit dated in some respects, as you mention, but I find myself returning to it often. If you're looking for a good social history of the piano that's more recent, check out "Piano Roles: A New History of the Piano," ed. James Parakilas.